This incredible photo series is from LIFE Magazine in the early 1970s. It's the home of actress Tippi Hedren in Sherman Oaks, California. Tippi was best known for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". She's also the mother of Melanie Griffith, seen here as a little girl.
Tippi's first encounter with lions was in 1969 in Mozambique where she was shooting "Satan's Harvest".She visited an abandoned house that was occupied by 30 lions and cubs. This trip would change her life forever.
She and her husband were so taken by what they had seen, that they decided to make a film, "Roar", about it. They had the idea to make the film with over 50 lions but were told by a trainer that it wasn't so easy to just hold a casting session for lions-- the lions could not just be forced to co-habitate in a large group. They'd need to be introduced slowly to keep the experience safe for both the people and other lions involved.
They decided the best thing to do was to develop a homegrown pride, one lion at a time. Tippi met animal trainer Ron Oxley who said that to truly understand a lion, she'd need to live with it for a while. Shockingly, she did just that.
Neil the lion moved into their San Fernando Valley mind-century rambler four to five days a week. Slowly, lion cubs would spend time at the house in a sort of welcoming committee before taking up permanent residence at Ron's ranch in Soledad Canyon.
The whole family was responsible for the feeding and care of the lions and Tippi insisted on day-and-night communication, letting the cubs sleep with her and her children.
Neighbors began complaining about Tippi's in-house pride and authorities finally forced the family to move somewhere less residential. Determined to keep going with the lions, the family packed up and moved to the Soledad Canyon, where they continued working on their pride.
During this time, they filmed "Roar" intermittently. The filming was a disaster: it cost $17.5 million ($78.5 million in today's dollars) and Melanie, then 19 years old, needed 50 stitches to the face after a lioness attack. The director of photography, Jan DeBont, was bitten on the head so severely, it nearly scalped him. The movie only grossed $2 million and was considered by many to be the most dangerous movie ever made.
After the film's completion in 1983, Tippi founded the Shambala Preserve, an animal sanctuary dedicated to the protection of exotic animals who have suffered mistreatment and neglect. Shambala has welcomed over 50 big cats, including lions, leopards, cougars, and bobcats. After Michael Jackson's death, his two Neverland Ranch tigers, Thriller and Sabu, took up residence at Shambala.
Tippi still maintains Shambala but in an interview with New York's Daily Mail, she confessed that she regrets living with the lions and calls her actions from 35 years ago "stupid beyond belief" and that she "never should have taken those risks".
However, she does admit, “I miss nursing the cubs very much. I really treasure that experience. There’s nothing sweeter than a little baby lion or tiger cub. They’re magical.”
Credit: Messy Nessy Chic